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Thursday, 11 December 2014 09:11

Students want to learn all that is Canadian

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Mayuka Higuchi, Jia Yoo, Keisuke Kotani, Miyu Chung, Kayoko Fukae have enjoyed their time in Canada. Mayuka Higuchi, Jia Yoo, Keisuke Kotani, Miyu Chung, Kayoko Fukae have enjoyed their time in Canada.

Medicine Hat College is home to well over 4,000 students encompassing 25 countries.


The students who attend the Medicine Hat College do so for varying reasons, but for some of the international students who are here temporarily, learning about the culture and getting a much firmer grasp of the language is the primary goal.
Miyu Chung is one such student.
She was born in South Korea, but her parents moved to Japan when she was younger and she grew up in the neighbouring country.
She is one of 230 students who are at the Medicine Hat College as visiting students.
In her case, she has chosen to study international and religious studies at the Gakuin University in Japan.
“I want to see another country’s culture. I want to improve my English. My English skills (were) not good,” she says with a smile. “Every day, I do something I haven’t heard (about) before, I have to hear English. I have to learn.”
Her verbal and written vocabulary, grammar and written punctuation have all improved with the classes that she takes at the college.
Learning by doing
Chung says the diversity in her classrooms is interesting, with students from Japan, China, Korea and Mexico.
The students get the opportunity to do different activities in Medicine Hat.
As part of the college’s program, they study the various facets of English with target-specific classes where they take tests. They attend class on most days from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and have lessons in listening, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. One day they have an activity where they learn about Medicine Hat, such as touring Medalta, or learn a new skill including going curling or doing pottery.
The city of Medicine Hat population — 72,800 — is much smaller in size than the Gakuin University she goes to in her city of Osaka, Japan (population 2.66 million).
“My classroom in the university is very big. My university has no psychology and no sociology (classes),” she explains. “In Japan, no breakfast. Most people don’t eat then.”
Chung has made a lot of friends while in Canada. Plus, she had a few friends before she arrived here. Amongst that group includes Mayuka Higuchi, Jia Yoo, Keisuke Kotani, Miyu Chung, Kayoko Fukae —  all of them are from Japan except for Yoo, 22, who is from South Korea.
In all their cases, their universities allow the students to travel to different countries to study. Yoo goes to school and designs computer programs for Samsung in Seoul, South Korea. Higuchi is doing a British/American studies course and the rest are undecided.
They stated in their universities, those who wanted to come to Canada as an option to immerse themselves in the culture and Medicine Hat was their option this year.
Medicine Hat vs. big metropolitan centres
Kotani did a similar program last year and he spent a year in Vancouver, so Medicine Hat was a bit of a transition. Like Chung, he wanted to learn about the culture as much as possible.
“Medicine Hat is a very small town and everybody is like family,” explains Kotani, 20, who adds Vancouver is much more of a party mentality. “I like the ESL (English as a Second Language) class here. When I went to Vancouver, there was no ESL class and I can’t make friends. I came here (to Medicine Hat) and I make friends.”
Kotani, Higuchi and Fukae says they wish they had a little more time to make more Canadian friends.
“Because we are in ESL all day, we don’t have a chance to meet too many (Canadians),” explains Higuchi, 21.
“We are very shy; we are foreigners,” adds Yoo who goes by an English name Aileen to help fit in. “They need to talk to us first ... If they are older age it’s OK, but if they are the same age, it’s a little scary.”
Yoo’s English was a little more advanced and she did make some Canadian friends.
One thing they weren’t expecting was the ethnic diversity in the city and at the college. For Chung, it was especially refreshing.
“I hear Canada is a different country. Here they don’t care (about what nationality you are),” explains Chung. “I’m Korean, but I live in Japan. It’s my complex. I want to go to Canada because they don’t really care (what you are). In Japan, they are always saying my face is Korean even though I can’t speak it. They always ask you where you are from ... In Canada, they don’t care I can’t speak Korean. They just ask, ‘can you speak English?’ It’s very good for me.”
Attending the college and living in Canada has been interesting. The diversity is quite different in that it’s not nearly as jarring as it is Japan.
When she is in Japan, anyone who is not Japanese are assumed to be tourists. Here, they could be citizens, students, visitors and she has seen no stigmas.
“I don’t like that I’m different than other people there,” she explains. “I can’t join them. I’m Korean, but I live in Japan. “I don’t want to think just country. It’s not about ‘country’, it’s just about (being) human.”
With the program, the students can stay in residence, but many choose the homestay option where they live with a Medicine Hat family’s home. which is pre-approved through the college.
Chung is in a household with two young children. It was an adjustment, but she learned.
“The first time I’m here, I can’t understand the children, but it’s got better,” explains Chung.
Cultural eye-openers
She says the cultural differences are also an adjustment. In Asian countries such as Japan, China and Korea, there are a lot of times where young people, even younger adults can’t talk to those elders directly or even look them in the eye when they are talking as it is a sign of disrespect. It is slowly changing, but in North America, there isn’t that issue. That adjustment takes a while to get used to for both the homestay parents and the students.
“I want to speak, it’s good for my English skills. I want to practise,” she explains.
She and her classmates were at first worried about when and what they could say at any given time and to whom.
“If I want to talk, I can talk — I’m not nervous. Canadians are friendly. They are talking to me.They are helpful to me.”
Yoo adds learning about the Canadian culture has been a good experience. There are a lot of differences such as tattoos. In Canada, tattoos are very common.
“My homestays were kind enough to take me to Calgary,” explains Higuchi. “They were good for me.”
“Homestay family always help me,” explains Fukae. “They always make delicious supper. We talk about Canada and Japanese life.”
While they are happy with their education and the friendships they have made, they look forward to going home and continuing their educations. Between the two places, Kotani says Canada is extremely friendly.
“I want to come to Canada. I love Canada,” explains Kotani. “It’s a good country. I think it’s because of the many kinds of people.”
Fukae likes Canada, but misses the big city. Chung says it’s been a learning experience. She says her parents were always worried about her and they will be glad she’s  home again.
“Canada is very cold,” she says, adding that the part of Japan she is from has no snow let alone the cold weather. “I talk about host family, delicious food and cute kids and what I did study about.”
Chung loves Canada. For her and at least some of her friends, they will be back sometime.

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor